The Monsters In Your Head

The Leeks were a most remarkable family. Raymond and Sheila were beautiful both on the outside and within. They were physicians, as specialized as they could possibly be within their respective micro fields. The kind of doctors so important they were flying out to different parts of the country every other week because there were only a handful capable of doing what they did.

Their home was a modern marvel. They’d designed it themselves and had it built near the top one of the winding roads in Beverly Hills. The kind of thing only independently wealthy people from already rich families could afford.

In June of 1989, they gave birth to their first daughter, Mia. She was born completely blind, not even partial vision in either eye. It was the kind of obstacle that would probably hold someone back unless they were brought up in a home where it was impossible to fail.

From a young age, she was remarkably intelligent, just like her parents. She was always at the top of her class, excelling and understanding any type of concept the teachers could find in the curriculum. She really shined in music, particularly on the piano. Though unable to see the keys while her fingers scaled them like spiders, she was an absolute master of her craft.

In September of 1991, the Leeks had their second child, Harrison. He was on a direct path to stardom pretty well from the days where he was first learning to walk and talk.

Like the rest of the family, he excelled in his academics– arguably the biggest standout of the four. He was a great athlete too, playing sports year-round and not facing the same disadvantages in that regard his older sister did.

However, much like Mia, his artistic creativity was really where he excelled. He wasn’t just a talented and smart kid who made nice things for the teachers and parents to look at in the classroom. The sculptures and paintings that kid produced– I’ve still never seen anything quite like it.

Quite frankly, none of us have.

He had a way of working with his hands, which always seemed to be cut and calloused yet still so precise. He would make foreign-looking figures and structures, sometimes tens of them in the same piece. They were odd scenes from far away planets and dimensions in distant realities beyond our comprehension. The kinds of things you couldn’t picture in your head even if you sat there with your eyes closed for years.

 The skill was there in massive proportion, there was no denying that. It was hard to define what was so remarkable about his style aside from the fact that it was dark. No cheap tricks or paper-thin characters, but a style that was profound and intellectual in its own gloomy way. Certainly not the type of thing you’d expect to see from a child and continue to be fostered with such brilliance while he grew into adolescence.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Harrison showed any of the early signs. He was as happy and compassionate of a kid that you could ask for. Almost like he was unaware of how special he was and just how much attention he garnered. You would have never known what an elite human being he was to become if you were to stop and chat with him while passing on the street.

We used to put him on the pedestal at school. He was the kind of kid you wanted to be friends with. I always used to ask him where he got his inspiration, and his answer was always the same. The Monsters.

Perhaps the one irrational thought that existed in the young man’s head was his devout belief that there really were monsters that visited him in his sleep. He’d become so familiar with the idea that he’d even given them names and described the way they looked.

He was convinced they would come to him bearing gifts out of the darkness in the wee hours of the night. They brandished the pieces on the scales of their palms, the same ones he would recreate himself. He would wake up hurting, the visions so clearly burned into his head that he thought it near impossible not to bring them into this world.

As far as Harrison was concerned, the works of art weren’t even his. He was only the medium to transpose. Everything belonged to them.

For whatever odd inspiration it may have been, Harrison was able to ride its momentum until his teenage years, when he was making clay figures and oil paintings of distant planets of the likes no one could believe. He started to catch the eyes of art aficionados all over the country. People started to inquire and invest. His parents were putting them online and selling them for egregious amounts and so the already very wealthy Leek family kept getting richer.

Mia moved out to New York after high school to work at a hedge fund with her aunt. Without his older sister around, Harrison was only put underneath the microscope more intently by his loving but very demanding parents.

It wasn’t until the night of his premier exhibition that I first witnessed any cracks in the pavement. Of course, I had insider information. I’m the one who got to see the monsters on an intimate level that no outsider ever would.

A great number of friends and family had shown up that night. Harrison stood in front of his exhibit in a navy suit, smiling and nodding towards all the incomers, both familiar and not. He carried himself like a man twice his age, like the whole thing wasn’t overwhelming in the slightest.

All thirteen of his pieces sold that night. Some of them at enormous prices after bidding wars had broken out.

Everyone was laughing over champagne in the reception hall afterwards. Harrison had waited until I’d isolated myself from the group to send off a couple photos. His face was so starstruck, I could never forget it. Through all the years and success, he’d managed to keep his head down and ego in check, but the smile on his face right then and there made me think that the existence of his greatness had finally settled in his mind.

He clutched a rolled-up piece of paper. I thought it was perhaps a contract or a printed receipt of all the money he’d earned that night. He slowly unrolled it right in front of my face, keeping his fingers loose like it was the most valuable document in the world.

“Look,” he said. “Incredible, isn’t it?”

The creation was light-years behind both the skill and creativity of Harrison’s hands. It was a picture drawn with pencil crayons and graphite. The shapes and colours were scribbled all over and bent over each other’s boundaries.

My eyes flipped back to Harrison’s. He leaned closer towards me, still looking elated.

“What do you think?”

“I… I don’t know. Is this a new piece? Is it something you’re trying to use for inspiration? Is it supposed to be ironic? I really don’t know, Harrison.”

Harrison laughed like my bewilderment was absurd. “I’m not using it for my inspiration. It is my inspiration.” He pushed the paper closer to my face like I was in desperate need of a second look.

I tried to focus on exactly what it was. There were two coloured blotches on the far right, one green, and one red. They were jagged, like broken Christmas ornaments and had little stick legs, arms, and heads drawn on. They appeared to be in a bedroom. There was an uneven rectangular window with a “t” going through the middle. There was a lopsided dresser and even a rounded chest at the foot of the bed on the far left.

In the bed lay a stick boy body without any covers on. His mouth was drawn in a messy version of a sad rainbow shape. He had short stubby hairs drawn on the top of his head which his stick arms appeared to be pulling at.

It looked like a common child’s picture– and not a particularly good one. I stepped back from him. I couldn’t see what he saw in it that was so special.

“I don’t know what to say, Harrison.”

He flipped the picture back to him. His eyes widened and darted all over the page.

“It’s the monsters,” he said.

It was the most elated I’d ever seen him. How it could be for such an uninteresting and unskilled work of art, I couldn’t think of any explanation for.

Sadly it would become an expression I would grow accustomed to seeing over the following months. He would share his experiences with that picture, along with all the subsequent versions that followed, with me on an intimate level I wish I could have distanced myself from farther. That was where I started to see the decline of his career and the whole Leek family get sucked down alongside him.

He showed up on my doorstep uninvited a week later. He brandished another one of the pictures and was once again intent on showing it to me and explaining just how sure he was it was the monsters. It was just as messy, just as unimpressive. The green and red blotches on the far right were a little closer to the middle, but aside from the obvious variations and inconsistencies on such a crude work of art, it was nothing more than a recreation of the picture from the week before.

The same thing happened the next week and the next ones consecutively after that. With each passing picture exposition, he became more and more convinced that the drawings were gifts from the monsters themselves. They were attempts at revealing their existence to him and their ultimate plan to cross into our world and live among us.

I tried to talk some sense into him and put things into perspective. I tried to tell him they were from a disgruntled fan or some prank by one of the kids from school who was jealous of his success. And for a long time, I really did believe that. That was until one day when he pulled up his shirt to reveal long red scratches all over his belly. The picture he showed me that day had the monsters drawn slightly sharper and now halfway across the room.

I wondered how far into madness he’d ventured. Had he created those wounds himself as a means of attention or something even more sinister? Even worse, had he been drawing those pictures himself and flaunting them in front of me like they were some kind of masterworks? 

Harrison’s work was rapidly morphing along with his descent. He started to attempt a recreation of that same scene from the pictures. He tried to sculpt the broken shapes of the monsters, scribbling on their colours and trying to make them look the same. New scratches and bruises were showing up on his arms and neck all the time.

The rest of the Leeks weren’t doing well either, almost as if their success hinged on his. Harrison told me the family hedge fund in New York was apparently on the verge of bankruptcy, so Mia had to stay over the Christmas break working double-time just to keep the ship afloat. There were rumours that Raymond’s medical licence was in jeopardy of being revoked after malpractice on a pediatric surgery upstate.

The house was a pressure cooker and I was the only one there when the whole thing blew open.

Harrison had invited me over one evening and I initially thought that it would finally be the time I confronted him and told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. I was headed off to college in the fall and was out of gas trying to stay alongside him while he sabotaged his own life.

He brought me up to his room where he had literally recreated a life-sized version of the pictures. The monsters were made from felt and paper mache. He had newly purchased pieces of furniture set up in his room to resemble the background as closely as he could.

“I can feel them coming,” he said. “They haven’t missed a week yet. They’re in the house.”

I was saved from the terrible task of thinking of a response by violent footsteps climbing the stairs. His parents burst into the room, already screaming and reprimanding their son for bringing me up there.

“We told you to take this down!” his mother screamed.

“You’re disgracing the Leek family!” his father followed.

They kept yelling at him until he was in tears. They tore down his craft monsters and ripped them apart. All of this happened with me still standing there distraught and in disbelief that they would unload on their son like this with me still there.

They went on about how they were two paycheques away from not being able to pay the mortgage. About how much support and financial aid they had given him to cultivate his career and how he was pissing it away with this stupid obsession over monsters that didn’t actually exist.

They threatened to kick him out. They threatened to disown him. They kept berating him and wouldn’t stop until I was forced to the point of excusing myself and slipping out the front door.

I used the excuse of illness to skip dinner with my family. I spent most of the night lying on my bed and staring at the ceiling. Mostly I felt sad. It was still hard to believe that such a perfect set of lives were in ruin.

At some point, I rolled over and noticed something out of place on my nightstand. A letter. Not something I’d really been accustomed to receiving during my teenage years. My mother must have left it there for me.

There was a dark part of me that knew what I was going to see inside that envelope and part of me wanted to close my eyes and pretend I hadn’t seen it when I pulled the picture out.

It was the same scene done in the same style as all those pictures Harrison had shown me. Undeniably, the work of the same hand. The only difference was the end recipient. I could only guess that it was a matter of Harrison driving himself so mad he’d grown weary of bringing the pictures over to my house and wanted to save the step.

I looked closer. There were subtle details drawn distinctly different in that one that wasn’t in all the others.

The monsters were at the foot of the bed. They loomed right over the prickled stick boy laying there. This time, they held things in their graphite arms. Both of them carried pointed objects and one had a little bottle in their hand.

An unnerving feeling came over me that I couldn’t suppress. This was the same nonsense that had been agitating me for weeks, but still, there was something odd about the picture in my hand that felt so much worse than all others.

I called 9-1-1 and made up a phony excuse of a woman screaming at the Leeks home to get them to send officers over. The operator tried to keep me on the line but I was too antsy. I was too unsettled to sit there and do nothing only a block or two away.

I hung up. I hopped on my bike and pedaled back to the Leek house as quickly as I could. The front door was unlocked, probably left that way by me after I’d let myself out.

The house was dark and silent. I called out tentatively, scared of any potential response I might get. I tip-toed up to Harrison’s room. The house felt very empty in comparison to how it had a couple of hours before. His door squeaked high and long when I pushed it open.

I’d caught the monsters red-handed. Both of them were moving across the room towards Harrison’s bed. One of them carried a big bottle, and both of them brandished kitchen knives.

Raymond and Sheila Leek stopped dead in their tracks. They turned to me and dropped what they were carrying right as the policemen walked through the front door downstairs.

The bottle rolled to my feet and even in the dark, I could clearly read Chloroform written on the label.

That night would be the start of an investigation that would eventually put Sheila and Raymond Leek behind bars for twenty-five years for the chronic child abuse of Harrison and Mia.

They found evidence they’d long been sedating their children and doing unimaginable things to them in the night with the devout belief that it was somehow the cause of their children’s creativity and success.

The pictures had been sent to us from a private psychiatric ward in New York. Mia had been permanently checked in there after all the emotional and physical trauma she endured growing up. The aunt and family hedge fund out east was all a fabrication.

The pictures Mia had been sending were simply her way of trying to tell us.